Helen graduated from Leeds Beckett University with a degree in Law (LLB). She also has a Masters (LPC with an LLM) from the University of Law. Discover how she secured a job with top law firm Langleys
How did you get your job?
My first foray into law was work experience for a smaller firm, where I worked with the family and criminal law teams, preparing court bundles and documents and typing up letters and notes. I started working with Langleys as a float secretary as soon as I earned my undergraduate degree, predominantly providing holiday cover across all departments.
I then decided to apply for a legal secretary position in the family law department, as that sector has always fascinated me. 18 months later, I spoke to my supervisor about moving to a paralegal role, so we began working out exactly how I could do that. Last year I achieved my goal.
What's a typical day like as a paralegal?
Almost every day brings something different - especially in family law. I have my own caseloads to work through, but I also support two of the partners with theirs. You'll never be dropped into the thick of it as a paralegal - instead you take on smaller, straightforward cases and work closely with other members of the team to develop your skills.
At the moment, my day involves drafting divorce petitions or statements, writing letters of advice to clients, reviewing financial disclosures or sitting in court behind Counsel, from initial to final hearings, on cases that might include proceedings around children and finances.
Family law generally deals with divorces and the associated financial arrangements, arrangements for children, pre and post-nuptial agreements, and cohabitation work. I have also been fortunate enough to work on a very interesting case involving surrogacy.
What do you enjoy about your job?
Interacting with clients is my favourite part of the role, even though it can be very emotional at times. Being able to support and help our clients throughout this stressful process is incredibly rewarding.
It's also important to remember that there are no winners or losers in family law - it's all about achieving the best possible outcome for your client.
What are the challenges?
When you start, you are the fee earner (which means you begin generating income for the firm - non-fee earners are support staff who help the fee earners with their cases) and need to know how to manage your own workload. This gets easier as you progress and gain more experience and soon enough, you'll be able to plan your time to get the most out of every job.
You might also put yourself under a lot of pressure to prove yourself straightaway. It can be quite tempting to try and run before you walk but you should let yourself get to grips with everything before you do this.
One of the most important things I have learnt is to listen to those around me. In a legal practice you have access to a great fountain of knowledge because you're working with people who have been in the industry for years.
In what way was your degree relevant?
During my university course, my lecturers were very keen to explain how the theory we were learning would apply in the real world.
My Masters course was extremely relevant to family law, as my dissertation was based upon alternative dispute resolution in family law, and helped me think about what other options my clients have and the different ways to reach a resolution, such as going through mediation.
What are your career ambitions?
Ultimately, my main goal is to qualify as a solicitor, so I am focusing on going down the CILEx route. I will be starting my graduate year in 2020, which will involve compiling a portfolio of my work to demonstrate that I have met various outcomes. Hopefully I will qualify as a Chartered Legal Executive in 2021, with a view to becoming a qualified solicitor shortly after.
The profession has come a long way over the years, and there are now a number of ways to get into law. CILEx allows me to progress in the discipline I enjoy, while continuing to develop my knowledge and skills, so I would recommend this to any graduate who knows which area of law they want to specialise in.
Of course, training contracts still work, especially if you’re not completely sure which area you would like to practice in.
Remember, there is no one size fits all and you need to follow the route that is right for you.
How do I become a paralegal?
Experience always comes first, so make sure you are always on the lookout for meaningful work experience. The things you learn during work experience will kick start your knowledge far more than you actually realise.
Consider taking up a paralegal role alongside your studies, especially if you are doing the LPC. Being in the office environment helps you see the practical application for the theory you are learning.
Finally, there are far more career routes than you expect, so always be on the lookout for different opportunities. The sector no longer requires you to hold a degree, complete your LPC and then start a training contract - you can start as a paralegal and work up. Don't shut down your options if you haven't secured a training contract, they're gold dust in this industry.